Tokyo Subway

Tokyo’s subway is a microcosm of Japanese society itself: congestion, maximum use of minimum space, state-of-the-art technology, good and bad manners (a future post on subway “manner” posters soon), cleanliness, accidents, suicides, endless announcements and business opportunities — the subway has it all.

The Tokyo Metro Co Ltd. hd_lg_metro carries 5.9 million passengers a day along 195 km of track via 179 stations, while the Toei toei_head subway system transports 2.03 million passengers daily and has 109 km of track and 106 stations on its four lines.  The Tokyo subway system is famous for efficiency and on schedule times, unless there is an accident.

Subway 1

The JR Yamanote Line, operated by JR East Railway Company jr_logo_en , runs in a circular route around Tokyo, with stops along major areas and convenient transfers to the Tokyo Metro and Toei lines.  JR (JR East, JR Central and JR West) operates Japan’s national railway system including the famous bullet trains called Shinkansen.

Tokyo’s first subway opened on December 30, 1927 by the government and 80 years later, the Fukutoshin line, which began construction in 2001, opened on June 2008 connecting Ikebukuro and Shibuya along its 8.9kms.

Subway 2  Subway 3

The deepest station in the Tokyo subway is the Roppongi Station of the Toei Oedo line at 42.3 meters (thankfully, most subway stations in Tokyo have escalators that never seem to be out of service), while Shinjuku is the busiest station.  The pictures below show the Roppongi station and an escalator in the Shinjuku station.

Subway 5  Subway 6

Although initially daunting, using the Tokyo subway system is not as difficult as it looks, especially since most signs and ticket machines are also written and available in English.  Below are pictures of some typical signs you will see everyday using the Tokyo subway system.  Is it readable to you?

Subway 7  Subway 8

Subway 9  Subway 10

The most confusing aspect is the multiple ways to get from one station to another, potentially with one or more transfers.  The other tricky aspect are local (stops at every station), rapid or express trains.  Personally, I use Hyperdia (applies in and outside Tokyo) to figure out how to get from one station to another, just enter the start and destination station and you will be presented with several possible routes, including timetables – this is a very handy website which I use all the time.

Fares, which usually start at 160 yen, depend on how far you travel.  You buy your tickets at automated ticket machines.  Then, enter through these automated gates – keep your ticket because you will need it when you reach your destination to exit.

Subway 11  Subway 12

If for some reason, the ticket fare you purchased wasn’t the correct value and the actual fare was more, don’t fret, you can use one of these handy ticket adjustment machines found at every exit – so a tip is, if you are not sure how much the fare is, just buy the minimum fare and when you reach your destination, use one of these machines and pay the difference.  Of course, you can avoid all of this hassle by buying a a re-chargable pre-paid card (Pasmo or Suica).

Subway Fare Adjustment 2

Tokyo Metro operates several women-only cars on several lines during rush hour and most stations offer wireless LAN services.

Subway 15 Subway wireless

Finally, a picture of Salarymen (will be explained in a later blog post) boarding a subway and inside an usually empty train.  Also, a YouTube video riding the JR Yamanote Line train, notice the announcements as you approach the (Tokyo) station in both Japanese and English.

Subway 17  Subway 18

Ok, below is a more typical image inside a subway car – people texting on their phones, sleeping, wearing masks, carrying bags, etc.

Subway 19 Subway Sleeping 1

Finally, a YouTube video by TokyoCooney explaining the Tokyo transit system.


9 thoughts on “Tokyo Subway

  1. >…subway stations in Tokyo have escalators that never seem to be out of service
    >…since most signs and ticket machines are also written and available in English.
    >…Pasmo or Suica
    >I use Hyperdia (applies in and outside Tokyo) to figure out how to get from one station to another…

    All of these modern conveniences are great. But none were here when I first came to Japan…riding the trains was quite different back then!

    My post about Tokyo back then is here:

  2. Yes, definitely easier today with all these modern conveniences and foreign friendly signage.

    Also, thanks for sharing your experiences from many years ago, it is a great contrast and shows the dramatic changes or improvements.

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  4. I just came back from my first trip to Tokyo and was so surprised at how easy it was to navigate the trains. Since I didn’t take any pictures in the train (police at NYC Transit freak out at you if you take pictures and I figured that it must have worked the same way in Japan), I loved reading your post.

    If you speak a little Japanese (or have a handy phrase book, like I did) you can ask the workers by the gates what the cheapest route is, and they usually know and tell you by pointing at a map.

  5. pattirose, thanks for visiting my blog and more importantly, taking time to post a comment – I really appreciate it!

    Hope you enjoyed you visit to Tokyo and get a chance to visit again. The workers at the gates are very helpful, aren’t they? Also, I noticed on the weekends, some of the stations had Tokyo Metro workers near the fare machines so they can also be of great help (I think they also can speak English).

    A very useful site, which I use all the time, is called Hyperdia (see

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